Compressor Settings

A compressor is an extremely versatile and useful tool in the armoury of a sound engineer whether in the studio or out on the road. Even though you may find the same type of compressors in a studio as in a live engineer’s rack, they tend to be used in slightly different ways. In a studio, many engineers layer and track guitars, vocals and keyboards and subsequently need to thin them out using a compressor and EQ. Out on the road, the compressor tends to be used as more of a limiting tool to stop peaks in the signal. Many engineers will place backing vocals or for example into a group on the desk and then compress the whole group to achieve a more rounded studio sound. But as there is only one main vocal (i.e. no tracking), you don’t want to lose too many dynamics of the sound by compressing too hard.

Below is a starting point for some compressor settings to move you in the right direction, but don’t go mad – a compressor set correctly can enhance and embellish a sound, but if set too high can ruin it. Remember, only compress something if it needs it – don’t compress something for the sake of it!

Drums

OVERHEADS
To lengthen the signal decay use a light compression of 2:1, but on he road in a smaller venue, you won’t have to do too much here.

KICK
To flatten the sound try 8:1 or more, short attack 2ms or less.
For more attack on the sound, try and slow the attack time to let the initial “poke” through.
10dB gain reduction (maximum!)

SNARE
To add more crack use a ratio of 3:1and a threshold of -10dB with an auto attack and release.
To add more depth, use a ratio between 4:1 & 6:1, an attack time of 5 to 10ms and a release time of about 150ms.
10dB gain reduction (maximum!)

TOMS
To tighten and make a more punchy sound then try a ratio between 4:1 & 6:1, attack time of 5 to 10ms with a release of about 150ms.

Electric Guitars
I have listed three ideas to try on the guitar as they all produce a different sound depending on what you are trying to achieve :

1) Ratio between 3:1 & 5:1, gain reduction between 8dB and 10dB on loudest notes. AUTO mode.
2) Ratio between 4:1 & 10:1, attack time between 10 & 50ms, release time around 0.4 seconds.
3) For that level pumping & feeling of power, then try a faster release time and a higher ratio.

Acoustic Guitars
By increasing attack time to 10ms or so the attack transients of the guitar remain intact. A short attack time gives a more consistent sound. As a rule, between 250 and 500ms of release time does the trick.

Bass Guitar
To start with, try a ratio between 4:1 & 8:1, Attack time of about 50ms, with a release time of around 0.4 seconds. Try and achieve about 6-10dB of gain reduction.

If you’re playing a very dynamic part reduce the ratio to 2:1 or 3:1

Vocals
Don’t go mad here – after all, this is what people have come to hear!

Try a ratio somewhere between 4:1 and 8:1, an attack time as fast as possible, with a release time of around half a second. Try and achieve about 4-6dB of gain reduction.

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